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inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #26 of 168: Angie (coiro) Thu 13 Jul 06 11:14
    
To Ed's question:

The character traits that help me balance an interview are the Patient
Polite Good Girl, who lets people finish their sentences and is loathe
to interrupt; and the impatient, MTV-attention-span listener, who
wants to be informed but not bored (I switch channels constantly in the
car). They temper each other.

When I was younger, I was too much of a people-pleaser. I constantly
monitored the impressions I seemed to be making on others, and adjusted
accordingly. As an adult, I recognize those (fading) urges and arrest
them. Ironically, though, I think that long-time habit taught me skills
I still use on the air. I can have a conversation while simultaneously
hearing how it sounds to the listener - one step removed, if you will.


In my mind, the listener is much like me - wants to learn, but doesn't
want to be droned at, or wait while time is wasted. So I listen to the
guest FOR the listener. When repetition starts, or the guest meanders
off the point at hand, a checklist kicks in for me mentally: is this a
valuable repetition, with new nuances, or a mere restating? Is this an
interesting, unexpected tangent I'm hearing, with potential for great
storytelling, or is it just drift, eating time better spent off-topic?

And as to balancing the guests - I want all the guests to be
comfortable, and I want them to feel valued. Nonetheless, if a guest
early on proves to be too dominant, or not much of a contributer (the
"yes" and "no" type who adds not much more), I'll quickly adjust. The
dominant person makes me aware I need to prompt the other guests into
equal participation. The yes/no/blank stare one drops to a lower
percentage of the questions, and I need to seek opportunities for
questions I suspect will bring more out of that person.

I do miss phone calls! - they were a fun part of the job, and we don't
take them in the MoJo format. How I handled them grew out of how I
heard other hosts doing the same job. One host I worked with in
Honolulu was marvelous at putting the callers at ease. He started with
a low, reassuring, "C'mon in here ... ", like a lodge owner drawing a
guest toward the warm fire. Others clearly used guests as props. To me,
you can't deny that they're people, that they deserve respect. But
just like the main guests, I can't sacrifice the show quality for all
the listeners out of concern for each callers desires and feelings.

Like everything else, it's a balancing act.

I think the thing that's served me best - the one thing I've been
complimented on most consistently, since I got into the interview biz -
is that I understand I'm not the show. If I'm doing my job right, the
topic is the show. The guests, the callers, and I are all in position
to examine the topic and bring clarity to the audience. It's never been
"The Angie Coiro Show". The day I forget that, the most beloved people
in my life are instructed to slap me upside the head.
  
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #27 of 168: Angie (coiro) Thu 13 Jul 06 11:15
    
Gail slipped.

Hey, you want awkward? Open a show on silent movie scoring with a
pounding, searing excerpt from a Lon Cheney flick, ask the composer how
he came up with it, and hear him say, "Well, I don't know, I didn't
write that. I'm not sure who wrote that."

Ouch. Ouch ouch ouch.
  
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #28 of 168: Gail Williams (gail) Thu 13 Jul 06 11:20
    
Ha!
  
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #29 of 168: Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Thu 13 Jul 06 11:38
    
What resources have you used to learn how to interview? eg. I really
enjoyed Poison Penmanship, by Jessica Mitford, that had a bunch of her
techniques. Or did you come up with it all on your own?
  
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #30 of 168: Berliner (captward) Thu 13 Jul 06 11:43
    
That's Lon Chaney, not Cheney. I can, however, see how you could get
confused. 

You know, radio is a more radical medium than some people probably
realize. I know it was hellishly hard for me, at first, to write in a
way that was suitable for radio: you can't go back and read that last
paragraph or check the lead to see what that guy's name was again. 

What other adjustments did you have to make for live radio that
perhaps the listener might not perceive?
  
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #31 of 168: Public persona (jmcarlin) Thu 13 Jul 06 15:02
    

> I do miss phone calls! - they were a fun part of the job,...

I know a lot of people like them, but most of the time I don't except for
specialized talk radio like legal/medical.  There are occasional
insightful questions or points, but too often the callers are much 
less clueful than the main interviewer.
  
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #32 of 168: Angie (coiro) Thu 13 Jul 06 16:43
    
Sharon, everything I know about interviewing I learned from listening
to and watching others (I do live, onstage interviews as well, so the
visual stuff matters.) You don't want to be in the room with me when
there's a talk show on the radio! I'm talking back to it constantly,
chiding or applauding the host. It's a running monologue, and it's fun,
but it's also the serious business of listening.

Early on, I did what lots of public radio people do: I inadvertently
mimicked other successful interviewers. I'm neither Terry Gross nor
Michael Krasny (local guy who hosts Forum at KQED), but I was on public
radio doing Friday Forum, and hadn't developed my own sound. But you
can't keep that up forever, and I grew the confidence to sound more
like myself. I'm sure there are vestiges of other people's work in my
style, but I probably couldn't tease them out at this point. 
  
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #33 of 168: Jacques Leslie (jacques) Thu 13 Jul 06 16:46
    
Angie, I'm curious about your outlook came to embrace progressive Mother
Jones-style politics. South Bend, for instance, doesn't strike me as a hot
bed of liberalism.
  
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #34 of 168: Angie (coiro) Thu 13 Jul 06 16:54
    
Which leads me to Ed's question - writing for radio. Let me separate
the two elements in your question: the writing itself, and the "live"
factor.

I'm chatty by nature. (Did you all pick that up by now?) I love words,
and I use too many of them. First at Forum, then even more so in the
commercial, fast-paced format of MJR, I've had to learn to streamline
like crazy. Write a show intro or guest intro, or a backannounce with a
tease, then strip it down, strip it down, strip it down.

I'm actually more competent in a live format, making fewer mistakes
and hitting the time cues more accurately. Live radio's "sink or swim"
energy is so invigorating! You *have* to get it right, you've only got
the one chance. I find that pushes me to a higher energy level and
better performance. Taped, I'll drop out midway to say, "Oh, damn,
what's the name of the book again?" Live, the adrenaline is more likely
to bring the name to my mind as needed.

Doesn't always work that way, of course. Once in midshow I lost the
thread of a question, and the guest helpfully finished the question,
then answered it. Don'tcha just love middle age?

The other key adjustment going live: as everyone inside the Well
knows, I've got a raunchy sense of humor and the mouth of a sailor. I'm
on constant alert to behave myself!
  
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #35 of 168: Angie (coiro) Thu 13 Jul 06 17:00
    
Ladies and gentleman, it's Jacques Leslie, my closing guest on this
week's show! Hi, guy!

First a quick thought to Jerry: you have so much company. My husband,
for one, will stay with an interview program right up to the host
saying "Let's go to the phones," and he's out of there like a shot. I'm
of mixed perspective on that. As a listener, I'll give callers more of
a chance. But I've got no patience with droners or conspiracy nuts.
That sends me down the dial, too.

A good producer/screener and some host skill with callers saves the
audience a lot of grief that way. But there's no perfect formula, and
rare is the show that doesn't have at least one clunker of a caller. 

Sadly, many potential callers have something solid to contribute.
Personal knowledge, tech know-how, interesting history that, properly
packaged, could make good radio. But not all of us tell our stories
well, and not all of us are easy on the ears. The caller needs at least
some verbal skill to engage us with the substance of the call.
  
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #36 of 168: Angie (coiro) Thu 13 Jul 06 17:19
    
Jacques, our family was likely the only one in South Bend to have
Mother Jones in the house from its debut issue. One of my sisters, whom
I've adored since the day I was born, somehow knew there was more out
there than the local political mentality, and brought it home. Because
of her, I knew who Ralph Nader was and why he mattered. The Whole Earth
catalogue was there, courtesy of Tina. She had a pragmatic and
fearless response to some of the crap loaded on us by the Church.
Although it took years to manifest, I credit her with my developing
political skepticism and a proudly liberal point of view.

When my colleague mentioned MJ was looking for a show host, I can't
tell you what the thrill was like. This was meant for ME. 

Even two years earlier, I may have been much more leery of jumping to
an experimental show on a relatively new network. Although I never
became a full employee at KQED News and Public Affairs (I was a
"temporary employee" for more than ten years), there was one reliable
day of work a week to be had. 

But the political tenor in the country had changed so badly. Stephen
Colbert nailed it when he "agreed" with the president that "truth has a
liberal bias". At the risk of overstating it, I felt I could do more
for my country aligning myself with respected, progressive journalists,
leaving behind the painful care not to offend that had at least
temporarily taken hold at public radio. I left when Ken Tomlinson was
at the peak of his influence.

All of that said - Tomlinson is gone, and I'm still a supporter of
public broadcasting in every sense. Well, okay, not in the sense of
appreciating the pledge specials, but that aside - it's still the best
thing we've got on the air, and I listen to it constantly. But radio
that's more activist is right for me at this stage in my life.
  
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #37 of 168: Angie (coiro) Thu 13 Jul 06 17:28
    
Here's a link to Jacques' story in the current MJMagazine, the one
we'll be discussing this week.

<http://www.motherjones.com/news/hellraiser/2006/07/over_her_dead_body.html>
  
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #38 of 168: Pat Adams (scarlet) Thu 13 Jul 06 19:20
    
Thanks for taking that leap of faith, Angie
  
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #39 of 168: Angie (coiro) Thu 13 Jul 06 20:00
    
That's very kind, Pat, thank you. I'm fortunate to have been in the
position to do it. My husband's employment gives me the freedom to
risk, which is rare in my business.
  
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #40 of 168: Don Mussell (dmsml) Thu 13 Jul 06 20:57
    
It's been good for all of us, I think.
  
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #41 of 168: Jacques Leslie (jacques) Thu 13 Jul 06 22:18
    
Angie, one of the things I've appreciated about listening to you is
that your questions are clear and concise, and once you ask them, you
get out of the way for the interviewee. I was a little surprised just
now to read that you find you must constantly streamline, because it
sounds effortless on the air. And I hasten to add that in my
just-concluded brief experience as interview subject, I had the same
feeling.
  
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #42 of 168: Jacques Leslie (jacques) Thu 13 Jul 06 22:19
    
And thank you for posting the link to the Medha Patkar story!
  
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #43 of 168: Berliner (captward) Fri 14 Jul 06 01:37
    
Yeah, Angie, I'll follow up on Jacques here: how much editing do you
do on the MJ show? It sounds like it just bangs along, but how tightly
do you snip here and there to get that effect. I know Terry Gross edits
her interviews tightly; do you sometimes re-do your voice on a
question, or is it just a matter of snipping the uhs and ahs and
y'knows from your subject's stream of conversation?
  
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #44 of 168: FROM PETER CROSS (davadam) Fri 14 Jul 06 08:30
    
Peter Cross writes:

Something I find rather nonsensical about the broadcast media is its 
near-universal pattern of updating the market indices frequently.  I 
find it hard to imagine that any significant part of the population
uses 
this information at such update intervals--very likely those who are
in 
the business of responding instantly to changes pay for an online 
service these days.

Jim Lehrer, in a manner I find bizarre, will use EXACTLY the same tone

of voice, emphasis, and so on to announce a 200 point dive in the Dow,

as a 1 point drop.  Most other announcers follow a similar pattern. 

Further, the Dow is not an average, though that is its trademark name.
 
And no other significant indices are mentioned--the world violence 
index, the hours wasted in traffic index, the beaten wives index, the 
abused children index, the church-attendance index, the satisfaction
at 
work index, the depression index, the teen suicide index, or the 
50-years-ahead human livability index.  These are far more important
to 
ME than an obscure glimpse of how stock-and-bond gamblers are feeling
in 
the past hour.

So, time used times number of listeners, an unbelievable amount of
human 
attention essentially wasted.

Peter Cross, Belmont, CA
  
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #45 of 168: Berliner (captward) Fri 14 Jul 06 09:10
    
Incidentally, this isn't about Angie, but my piece on Aretha
Franklin's singing sisters is on Fresh Air today, and people who are
interested in how writing for radio is different from writing for print
might want to listen to it with that in mind. Fortunately, when I
record one of those things I get a lot of re-takes if I need 'em!
  
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #46 of 168: Angie (coiro) Fri 14 Jul 06 09:40
    
The coincidence already made me smile. I'm sitting here listening to
FA, enjoying Robert Downey and awaiting your piece. 

First to Peter in Belmont (sounds just like I'm going to the phones,
doesn't it?) - 

I've never given much thought to time spent on the market indices. I
know it's of use to some segment of the audience, like traffic reports
that non-drivers sit through, or sport scores that people like me
couldn't car less about. And I'll tell you why I can't get too worked
up about it. It's dwarfed by the much less relevant, much more harmful
"news" about Michael Jackson, runaway brides, and stupid bank robber
stories. 

I remember ABC News leading with a Jackson story last year, the day a
small group of US soldiers was blown to bits in their vehicle outside
Fallujah. Like so much news coverage, it brought to mind the terrible
and accurate phrase, "entertaining ourselves to death".

Were I to be given the power to hack away at useless news time hogs,
market indices would be pretty far down the list.

On the other hand, emphasis on the markets and business is indicative
to me of the skew toward corporate and money interests in American news
coverage. More of us are laborers than will ever be stockholders.
Where's the labor coverage? We hear union stories only during times of
strife, while management is covered every day in - as you note -
neutral, non-judgmental tones.

I sense a soapbox growing under my feet, so I'll move on to earlier
questions.
  
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #47 of 168: Angie (coiro) Fri 14 Jul 06 09:56
    
Thanks for the kind words, Jacques. Despite them - oh, yes, I'm still
quite capable of coming out with a forty-second, multi-layer question.
Believe me!

Ed, the editing process varies widely from piece to piece. Sometimes
it's just a matter of cleaning up "ums" and throat clearings. On the
other end of the spectrum, we'll sometimes record up to twenty minutes
or so, knowing that we'll run the whole thing as an "internet extra",
linked from our radio page. Thus we'll pick out eight to ten minutes of
highlights, heavily edited for time and continuity, for the show
segment itself.

Sometimes I'll ask a followup question that provokes exactly the same
answer I was following up on. The guest just didn't get what I was
asking (which is as often as not the fault of how I phrased it). So we
give it another go, and toss out the first answer in the editing
process.

I came to the editing process as a bit of a purist. "That's not
exactly what we said! Roll it, warts and all!" That loses sight of the
fact that radio is in part entertainment. Audiences don't need or want
to sit through fractured thoughts and extended dead air in an AM,
commercial format. Those beautiful, pensive silences that Terry Gross
can allow her guests in her format need to be sacrificed in ours. 

That's not to say we always edit those out, by the way, when they're a
relevant part of the answer. When David Horowitz joined us to debate
one of his "most dangerous academics in America", there was much
hemming and hawing, and several false starts, before he admitted the
chapter on this particular academic was written by someone he'd never
met (and, by implication, couldn't vouch for). 
  
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #48 of 168: Angie (coiro) Fri 14 Jul 06 10:02
    
I'll tell you one thing that strikes me again and again about modern
editing: in the wrong hands, it can be so dangerous. In that particular
debate, we could have done any number of things to make Horowitz sound
worse and the professor sound smarter and snappier. Digital editing
can insert a "not" into the phrase "it's true" so seamlessly the casual
listener would never pick up the manipulation.

On a less sinister level, with every show you have to question all
your edits. Yes, I'll rerecord a question to improve the flow. Is it an
honest representation of the original question and answer? Is my goal
just to make me sound better and less scattered? Or genuinely in
service of the show and the audience?

Fortunately, Katrina and I are clearly on the same page on
intellectual and editorial honesty. 

Here's an entertaining and illuminating look at the editing process
from one of my all-time favorite shows, NPR's On the Media. I promise
it's worth your time, even if you're downloading on a dial-up. 


<http://onthemedia.org/transcripts/transcripts_123104_curtain.html>
  
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #49 of 168: Berliner (captward) Fri 14 Jul 06 10:10
    
Maybe the insidiousness of digital editing is why Fresh Air still uses
tape? 
  
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #50 of 168: Angie (coiro) Fri 14 Jul 06 10:13
    
Are you kidding? I had no idea! 
  

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